When your job expectations don't match reality, what do you do?

Finally landing the job usually makes the stress of the search worth it. But what happens after you've jumped through all the hoops to land that dream job only to discover that it's a nightmare?

According to a Glassdoor survey, 61 percent of employees have found some aspects of their new jobs to be different from what they had expected. So, if you are disappointed in the day-to-day realities of your new job, don't fret. You are not alone!

That said, the feeling of dissatisfaction is very real, and it's wise to pay attention to it. Sure, it's easy to dismiss your discomfort or even to rationalize it. There's the learning curve of the initial adjustment period or missing the good things about your old job. You may even be struggling to figure out the new power structure, to establish yourself as a valuable contributor, or simply to get the coffee maker to work. But is there something more to it?

If you are feeling frustrated and unhappy with your new position, should you power through it — or quit right now?

New-job reality check

“It's rare for any role to live up to initial expectations,” shares Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume.

Augustine explains that the interview process is about mutual selling. As a candidate, you want to position yourself in the best light to get as many desirable offers as you can. At the same time, employers are showcasing their openings to woo you.

Of course, once you are hired, both sides get to see what's behind the curtain. And most of the time, reality doesn't exactly match what had been discussed during the interviews. While there is nothing you can do to avoid this completely, solid due diligence in the interview process can help. 

“Ask targeted questions during the interview process to get a good sense of the company culture and expectations of the position,” recommends Augustine.

Test your cultural fit during the interview

Many candidates remember to ask about the title, job responsibilities, salary, benefits, and vacation time. But the cultural aspects of a prospective employer are a bit harder to sort out.

For one, a straight question along the lines of “How would you describe your company's culture?” is unlikely to yield a complete answer. Culture is hard to verbalize in a snippy sentence. A company tagline often presents a carefully curated public image (that may or may not match reality). Besides, the hiring manager is trying to impress you — which may influence their ability to be frank.

Instead, you might ask other questions that point at the culture indirectly:

●      What time do the people in your group usually arrive at work and leave?

●      What kind of corporate events does the company have?

●      How often does the team get together for meetings?

As you ask questions and take in the answers, remember to look around and observe as much as you can. How do people dress? What's the general feeling of the office: busy, stressed, cheerful, depressed, desperate? What words do people use to describe events and places? For example, if someone refers to a conference room as “the war room,” you get a quick insight into the spirit and culture of the company.

One of the best opportunities to observe unfiltered company life is during a tour. Many employers include a tour as part of the interview process. However, don't hesitate to ask for one if it isn't offered by default. Those small interactions in the hallway can reveal a lot. And don't forget to pop into the bathroom! An out-of-order, messy bathroom with toilet paper missing may be a red flag.

Dealing with disappointment in your first 30–90 days on the job

Unfortunately, even those who have done extensive due diligence can find themselves in the uncomfortable gap between reality and expectation. If you are there right now, read on for some ideas to try and advice on what to do next.

First, remember that the first one to three months at a new job are essentially an extended onboarding period. “Your experience may not be an accurate representation of what long-term employment will be like,” shares Augustine. For example, you might be feeling bored as the company scrambles to find something for you to do. Or perhaps the team is struggling to rearrange the org chart while you feel unsupported. Or maybe you are overwhelmed with too many new projects and too-long hours. All three of those scenarios could well be temporary.

If you have a specific reality/expectation mismatch that's bothering you, it's a good idea to discuss it with your manager. After all, the company has invested a lot of time and money into choosing you and getting you up to speed. It's in everyone's best interest to find a mutually satisfactory solution.

However, the success of that conversation depends in large part on your ability to verbalize what exactly isn't working. The more specific, the better. Here are some opening questions to help you prepare: 

●      Do your actual job responsibilities not match what had been discussed during the interview? 

●      Are your working hours drastically different from what you had expected?

●      Are you getting access to training and resources as discussed during the interview?

●      Is your work travel schedule more extensive than the job description had let on?

Before you speak your mind, give some thought to how you will frame your question or request. You want to come across as professional, non-accusatory, and neutral. Emphasize your desire to clarify expectations and get you the tools you need to do your best work. Even though these conversations can be stressful, they are an important ingredient for building mutual trust between you and your new employer. If and when critical talks go well, each side moves one step closer to a solid working relationship.

Keep in mind that not every grievance will get resolved immediately (or in the way you had envisioned). Sometimes, managers have an influence in giving you certain assignments or resources. Other times, you may be stuck with what you've got. And if you uncover a deep cultural mismatch with the company or find yourself in a conflict with a long-standing employee, there may be nothing your manager can do.

Work expectations versus reality: Should you stay or should you go?

As you muddle through the frustration of those early days in the new job, bring your mind to the things you can control. Speaking to your manager and asking for specific changes (like your working hours or assignment mix) is important, but it's only one thing. Look for other opportunities to make your day better. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Commit to two weeks of a daily gratitude practice, where you begin each day by listing three to five things you are grateful for. While that sounds simple, research has shown it to be surprisingly powerful.

  • Look for ways to build a relationship with your manager. Ask for periodic meetings where you can share your progress and ask for feedback.

  • Get proactive about meeting other people at the new company. Consider eating lunch with someone new every other day — and use those times as an extension of your interview.

  • Ask for training, especially if you are stepping into a new industry or role. Many companies have internal resources like training courses or informal mentoring programs. Attending conferences or joining working groups could help you ramp up quicker, too.

Above it all, be patient. Remember that a month is usually not enough to know what the job will be like after you are fully ramped up.

On the flip side, it's also important to recognize the signs of a potentially toxic work environment. If people are rude and dismissive, if you keep asking questions but never get clear answers, and if you are surrounded by office drama and bad attitudes, you should run. It's possible that things may improve, but it may be better to start exploring your other options. “If you decide to jump ship, secure a new position first,” warns Augustine. It's always easier to land a job when you are already employed.

And when you do get back out there for interviews, make sure that you commit time and energy to finding the right position for you. All too often, professionals focus on getting themselves out of their current situation — just to end up in similar circumstances a few months later. Reflect on what went wrong in your due-diligence process and write down your values and the specific aspects of the job that you are unwilling to compromise on. That way, you will set yourself up for a better-fit job next time!

Feeling the new job blues and wondering if your resume needs a refresh? TopResume has your back!

 Recommended Reading:

●      Signs You're in a Toxic Work Environment — and How to Handle It

●      Ask Amanda: How Long Should I Stay at a Job Before Quitting?

●      10 Tips on Effectively Looking for a Job While Employed

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